Coming off one of his better starts of the season, Justin Masterson is probably itching to get the ball again. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Indians starter, the mound he will be pitching from and the opponent he will be facing have not been kind to him.
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Masterson looks for his first victory in six appearances at Tropicana Field when the Indians continue a four-game series Wednesday night with the Tampa Bay Rays, who have pounded the right-hander throughout his career.
In his last start before the All-Star break, Masterson (6-8, 4.14 ERA) allowed eight runs and nine hits over 4 1-3 innings in a 10-3 home loss to the Rays on July 6.
It appeared the time off helped Masterson, as he gave up five hits over seven innings of a 1-0 victory at Toronto on Friday.
“I don’t think I thought about baseball at all,” he said. “I maybe caught a hair of some of the All-Star festivities but it was just nice to relax, just sit back and kind of do your own thing. I had a nice date night with my wife, ate at a little Italian restaurant. It was cool.”
What hasn’t been cool for Masterson is the way Tampa Bay has treated him over the years. The loss two weeks ago dropped him to 1-7 with a 7.69 ERA in 12 appearances – eight starts – against the Rays, and he’s 0-4 with an 8.46 ERA at Tropicana Field.
“I probably should have just thrown left-handed,” Masterson said after losing his seventh straight decision against the Rays.
Most of Tampa Bay’s regulars are hitting well over .300 against Masterson, with B.J. Upton and Luke Scott leading the way. Upton is 6 for 13 with a home run and two doubles, while Scott is 8 for 19 with a homer and three doubles.
If that strong hitting continues, Jeremy Hellickson (4-6, 3.48) would be the beneficiary for the Rays, and the right-hander could sure use some run support.
Hellickson lost his sixth straight decision Friday, allowing three runs and five hits while walking four over six-plus innings in a 3-1 defeat to Boston.
He’s 0-6 with a 4.26 ERA in his last eight starts, losing 3-1 in Cleveland on July 5 after giving up two runs and five hits with four walks over six innings.
The Rays (47-44) have totaled four runs in the last three games Hellickson has started.
“We just have to figure out a way to score four runs on a night he gives up three,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s what it all comes to.”
Hellickson, the 2011 AL rookie of the year, is 1-1 with a 1.38 ERA in two career starts against the Indians. He’s held All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to one hit in five at-bats, and designated hitter Travis Hafner is hitless in three at-bats against him.
Cleveland (46-44) won for the third time in its last 13 games at Tampa Bay in the series opener Monday before the Rays bounced back with a 4-2 victory Tuesday.
Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer and Scott had an RBI triple as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead.
Cabrera singled for his only hit in four trips to the plate, leaving him 2 for 29 with 12 strikeouts over his last seven games.